An employee filed a worker’s compensation claim and then brought a personal injury suit in civil court against his employer, for the same injuries that the claimant sustained in the workplace accident. See Judicial estoppel can’t block dismissal of negligence action. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Bulletin, Volume 29, Issue 11, August 13, 2021, page 8. The case discussed in the article, Sampson v. Prairie Farms Dairy Inc., 29 ILWCLB 121 (Ill. App. Ct., 3rd 2021), involved a technician that was injured at his employer’s premises (a dairy), while carrying out maintenance work on a machine that was still in operation (ie. the machine was still “on” while the employee worked on it), which then caused the employee-claimant to suffer trauma that ultimately resulted in the amputation of the fifth finger (pinky) of his right hand. The employee filed a claim for worker’s compensation benefits shortly thereafter, but also filed a personal injury negligence suit against his employer in state civil court as well, based on the same incident. The employer then moved to dismiss the aforesaid injury lawsuit, claiming that the employee’s civil action was barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Worker’s Compensation Act (or “WCA”), but the employee in turn asserted that the employer’s motion to dismiss the civil suit was subject to and/or barred by judicial estoppel, due to the fact that the employer took legal positions in the employee’s worker’s compensation claim that were contrary to and/or that conflicted with the employer’s motion to dismiss (ie. the employer claimed in the worker’s compensation case that the employee-claimant was barred from obtaining benefits due to him violating the safety rule of employees not working on machines that were still activated, while the employer then contrarily asserted in its dismissal motion that the employee’s sole remedy for his injuries was in fact the WCA, and that the employee’s civil suit was therefore barred by the WCA). The circuit court agreed with the employer, and granted the motion to dismiss the employee’s injury suit, but the employee appealed. However, the appellate court affirmed the dismissal, holding that, since the employee did not plead a count for judicial estoppel in his complaint against the employer, and did not seek to amend his complaint to add a count for estoppel later, then judicial estoppel did not apply. The appellate court further held that the employer’s respective positions in the worker’s compensation case and the civil case were not inherently contradictory, because the employer asserted in its motion to dismiss that the employee’s claim was subject to the sole jurisdiction of the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Commission (or “IWCC”), even if, as the employer claimed, the employee’s compensation benefit claim should be dismissed, due to the employee violating the employer’s aforesaid safety rule. Finally, the appellate court held that judicial estoppel would also not apply, because the employer’s defense to payment of benefits had not yet been ruled on by either the arbitrator or the IWCC, with the employer thus not yet benefiting or achieving success in its stance before the IWCC. This case is a clear-cut example of how a worker bringing a claim under the WCA can have a related civil action barred under the WCA’s exclusive remedy provisions.
See Judicial estoppel can’t block dismissal of negligence action, Volume 29, Issue 11, August 13, 2021, at page 8.See Id.
Attorney Matthew Ludwinski